The Fearless Cook makes…Chicken Parmesan

 
Chicken Parmesan
The third recipe in my Italian Chicken series challenge.
 
Chicken Parmesan is a popular American favorite of Italian dishes. Fried chicken with pasta? What’s not to like?
 
I’ve alway been scared of frying chicken. I used to look in amazement at my mother frying chicken. She was talented and had no fear. 
 
I’m also afraid of getting burned. I’ve had oatmeal dropped on my thighs at age 7 yrs. My father-in-law and mother-in-law had their arms burned from frying chicken at their home. It was a grease fire from the skillet onto the stove top. 
 
So when I approach frying I do so …..very….carefully.  Chicken Parmesan is all about the breaded chicken cutlets. The crispier the better.
 
There were seven steps: Prepping, dredging, dipping, breading, resting, frying and broiling.
 
Prepping.  The cutlets (boneless breasts or thighs) are pounded thin with a meat hammer. Then place tje cutlets in a sealed plastic bag with water and 1-2 tsp of salt, for at least 30 minutes. Then pat dry the cutlets with a paper towel.
 
Dredging. One cutlet at a time, dredge into flour, covering both sides. 
 
Dipping. Take the floured cutlet and dip into beaten eggs (two) with olive oil mixture, covering both sides.
 
Breading. The cutlet is now pressed into an Italian bread crumb mixture that has minced garlic and oregano. Pressing the moist cutlet carefully onto both sides until covered with crumbs.
 
Resting.  Place the cutlet on a wire rack and let it rest for 10 minutes setting the bread crumbs before frying. This was a pivotal step! I never knew how important this was to making a great finished product!
 
Frying.  Six tsp of olive oil into a non-stick skillet and heat oil is shimmering. Fry two cutlets at a time about 4-5 minutes on each side until crispy.  Remove from skillet wtih tongs and set aside on a warm plate. Before frying the last two cutlets remove the skillet from the burner and clean out the oil with paper towel. Repeat the process again for frying the final two cutlets.
 
Broiling. Place 2-3 TBSP of mozzarella cheese and 1 TBSP of parmesan cheese atop each fried cutlet. Place all four cutlets in a broiler pan and place under the broiler until the cheese has melted and browned.
 
Serve atop spaghetti and a tomato-basil-garlic sauce.
 
So what did The Fearless Cook learn?
 
Lesson #1
The skillet got really hot with frying, so I had a lid ready to cover the popping oil when it freaked me out. I took it off the heat whenever I needed to turn the cutlets with a tongs.  AND I had to take the skillet away from the burner because the oil flew onto the burner and smoked it a few times.
 
Lesson #2
Frying is time consuming. The frying heated up the kitchen and the fear of frying heated me up. The entire process took about 90 minutes. Once the cutlets were done, the sauce and the pasta were ready to go and it went together quickly to serve.
 
This was such a fabulous meal I have made it twice already. The cutlets were oh so crispy. Better than Stouffers!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

An alternative to Easter ham – Italian Chicken Piccata

It’s spring and the weather is sunny one day and stormy the next. This is the last time before summer hits that we will feel comfortable heating up the kitchen and making an Italian meal.

Being that it is Easter this weekend I will focus on Chicken Piccata – the second Italian Chicken out of four that I have challenged myself to make. I had never made this dish but the ingredients are  just what we imagine spring to be, light and sunny. So if you are sick of ham or lamb and are looking for something EASY to make, try this dish.

What makes chicken piccata is the sauce. Lemon and capers; the tart and the salty. After my inaugural try, I was amazed at how easy it was to pull the dish together. 

This recipe came from The New Best Recipe (2004), the cookbook is from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated home of America’s Test Kitchen. I searched the internet to check out other versions of Chicken Piccata. Some chefs breaded the breast cutlets but I thought it looked too heavy for a light lemony sauce.

If you read my last entry on Chicken Marsala, you will see that this recipe starts out similarly.

Chicken Piccata

You start with 4 chicken breasts. I am now in love with boneless chicken thighs because they are cheap and remain moist even after cooking. You could substitute the chicken breasts for thighs and get smaller portions. 

4 chicken boneless breasts, 1 cup of flour and 2 TBSP vegetable oil.
Floured chicken breasts

 Heat the oil in the skillet medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering place the floured cutlets in cooking until golden brown, about 3 minutes each side.

 
Chicken breasts golden brown

Transfer the chicken to a heated plate in a 200 degree warm oven while you make the sauce.

The ingredients for the sauce are: 1 lemon, 1 TBSP oil, 1 minced shallot, 2 TBSP capers, 1 Cup chicken broth, 4 TBSP butter and optional ingredient 2 slices of pancetta sliced into thin strips.

 

Now in the pictures you can see my chopper/mincer. I only use this for nuts,onions or in this case, shallots, when I need them uniform and finely chopped. This is a light sauce so no one wants a chunky onion to bite into.

The recipe advises to cut the lemon pole to pole (that was a first for me to see it described that way), into 6-8 slices which I did in the picture above. The lemon slices go into the sauce and the other half of the lemon is juiced to add later. Mince the shallots and add to hot skillet with 1 TBSP oil then add the pancetta. Next time I make this recipe I’m going to cook the pancetta first and get it a little crispier and then add the shallots. The shallots become translucent very quickly.

 

Add the lemon slices and chicken broth and bring to a simmer for 4 minutes to reduce the liquid. Then add the remainder of the lemon juice and the capers, again simmering until the liquid becomes reduced, about 2 more minutes. Remove the pan from the burner and add the 4 TBSP of butter and swirl to melt. Place the chicken cutlet on serving plate and spoon the sauce atop as below.

Voila! Chicken Piccata.

I might just bring this to an Easter Brunch this Sunday. I will probably serve it on a bed a spaghetti with asparagus on the side. The spaghetti could be tossed with olive oil and parmesan cheese or maybe a basil pesto before placing the chicken atop. Happy Spring and Happy Easter!

Nobody wants to be Ethel

I was dubbed Ethel to my friend “Lucy”, several years ago. She would attach herself to  my hip and drag me on crazy adventures when we would volunteer once a week every year for a charitable event.

Vivian Vance, who portrayed Ethel Mertz in the I Love Lucy television series of the 1950s and 60s, referred to herself as the “best second banana in the business”.  I never thought too much about the title until one night I was watching a TV Land documentary on Laverne and Shirley – the 70’s female comedy duo.  The comparison of their show to I Love Lucy  was made. Penny Marshall had lots of family connections with the show’s production (her brother was the director). And because of that pressure Cindy Williams exclaimed “I don’t want to be Ethel”.  Lucy was the star and Ethel was the nobody. Vivian Vance who played Ethel won one Emmy in her career as Best Supporting Actress; of course Lucille Ball won five in the course of hers. Lucy was always getting the sunlight and Ethel was adding color and depth to her star.

It made me think that yes, I am an Ethel. I support my family, my patients, my friends, my co-workers – for them to shine. But you know, where would Lucy have been without Ethel? Who would’ve been her sidekick, her steady stead. The role of Ethel is rare these days because everybody wants to be Lucy. On the Laverne and Shirley show they fought constantly about the number of lines written for each character and trying to keep everything completely balanced and fair. It was chaotic on the show with the writers and crew miserable.

The world is full of ego maniacs grabbing the spotlight. Everybody’s got to have their five minutes of fame, be it on You Tube or Facebook. You’re nobody until 50 million people have seen you through the internet. Oh I’ll admit my ego was the size of the Grand Canyon when I was full of myself as a young girl with hormones and energy. It was fun to be crazy with my girlfriends and see who could be the most outrageous with a comment and get everybody laughing. People thought I was funny. But I would go “over the top” sometimes and then nobody laughed. It happens when you go for the next attention grabber and you don’t know when to stop or change the subject. Usually someone gets hurt at that point and people just walk away.

There were plenty of comedy teams in the past, not so much anymore. Most comedians go solo to have the spotlight to themselves.  The funny half of the duo says her lines and the straight half of the duo responds. I liken it to tennis. A good player lobs the ball back  to the server and keeps it within the lines for the banter to continue. And both must be sharp to pick up the underlying sarcasm and subtleties. 

Second bananas are getting their time in the spotlight. Look at Sarah Palin – she’s carried her ride into 2011 since the 2008 election. So I’ve decided that Ethel needs her own identity and not wait for Lucy to define her. Second bananas can have a life outside of the stars they support and be funny. So break out Ethel find your own mojo! But most of the time life is messy and the egos can’t always be balanced. So somebody’s gotta be Lucy and somebody’s gotta be Ethel.

The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award

Thanks to Lauren from theveryhungrybookworm for passing the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award to The Patty Beat!  This award is special because every post is written with love– love for the written word and for the readers!

So, here’s how it works:

  1. Link back to the person who gave you the award.
  2. Share 4 of your guiltiest pleasures.
  3. Pass the award on to 6 other irresistibly sweet blogs.

My guilty pleasures:

  1. I love the movie As Good as it Gets with Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves and Jack Nicholson. I own the movie but whenever it is on TV (like tonight) I stop everything I am doing to watch it.
  2. Smarties, Sour gummies and pretzel M & Ms.
  3. I like to sew and knit but I don’t have time to do either.
  4.  I like to sit in bed and watch taped Jeopardy episodes.

Six irresistibly sweet blogs:

  1. theveryhungrybookworm
  2. CollectiveDisclosure
  3. Lagniappe
  4. jannatwrites
  5. Art is the Handmaid of Human good
  6. Short Attention Span Fiction Congrats to these blogs! Go ahead and follow the three steps listed above to spread the love– but you don’t have to return to the favor to me. Choose new blogs to spotlight so that you can share the love!

The bag lady blues

A stage play The Purse Chronicles debuted in Denver this past year from author Coleen Hubbard. The play involves two men who find a purse and try to imagine the personality of the woman from the contents. I thought of this play as I peered into my bag this week. It’s winter, so I switched to my bag with lots of pockets. You know the over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder, bicycle courier, bag. Two months ago, when the holidays were upon us, I thought it would be easier to have this big bag since I would be hauling a lot of stuff with shopping and all. Unfortunately, the holidays are over and my bag is getting heavier by the day. I emptied it out and couldn’t believe what was in there.

THE BAG

I have six contact lens cases in there. I think I kept throwing them in because I couldn’t see one in there; Fifty credit card receipts, an empty prescription bottle and a bottle of hair product my stylist gave me to sample; A digital camera, battery charger and four photo cards; My wallet with cash, drivers license and cards, a check book, wallet sized pictures, five professional membership cards, business cards, four pens, three gift cards, and two types of wipes; Three sets of earrings, two necklaces, a bracelet, a watch and a rosary; Ten coupons, a note to myself, empty candy wrapper, two types of hand cream, prescription glasses case, reading glasses case, a birthday card and a book of stamps; A handkerchief, a pack of gum, a napkin, silver jewelry cloth, mouth guard container, a plastic spoon and a pair a gloves.

The contents and type of bag one carries around says alot about their personalities. A window to the soul. I think mine is more like a junk drawer.

In the past 60 years, the contents of our bags have changed. We went from one little bag to carry money and lipstick in, to lots of extra bags to meet different needs. We need bags to carry our coupons, daytimer, laptop, newspaper, magazines, smartphone, cell phone, work out clothes, yoga mat, umbrella, lunch, and bottled water.  My bags spill over into my car as I have places to go before and after work. 

I also have extas bags in my car to switch out to for style if I am out and about. Two or three fun stylish bags. After I arrive at my destination I decide which bag would look better with my outfit. I swap out the contents from one bag to another then head in with my bag that coordinates with my outfit.  

Why do I do this to myself? I don’t think I am trying to be a hoarder. I want to be prepared for any situation that is thrown upon me when I am out of the house. And I probably spend most of my time away from home in my car. My car sometimes feels like my second home. 

My bags are my baggage. These bags are packed with some level of fear. Fear of being unprepared. Occasionally, I have to give myself an intervention and purge the contents when the strain becomes too much for my shoulder or when the car needs cleaning.

I’m getting older and all of this stuff in my life is dragging me down. It takes a lot of time to throw stuff out and be organized. I think I am staying ahead of it and then it piles right into my life again. There isn’t enough time built into our lives to stay organized. We run from event to event and have little down time.

I just gotta keep pluggin along, cuz I’m singing the bag lady blues.

The Fearless Cook takes on…Garlic

Fear, innate in all of us, is a human instinct. It is nature’s coping mechanism to protect us from the emotional bad stuff. The number one thing people are afraid of is a terrorist attack. Cooking in the kitchen did not make the top ten list. My minor in psychology causes me ponder these things.

I grew up in a rural town and some people might say that because of that upbringing I was sheltered from the “real world”. I was exposed to cooking according to how my mom did it in the 60s and 70s. There were five kids in my family and cooking was a way to get food on the table to feed seven people. Cooking with non-traditional ingredients and foods weren’t high on the list.

I will never forget my first exposure to garlic. It was 7:00 am on the hospital day shift and the assistant head nurse was giving me me my assignment for the day. She was of Italian descent and she reeked of garlic on her breath. Whoa! That was overpowering! My mother never cooked with real garlic, ever. She used garlic powder or salt that got sprinkled into a sauce or chili. I had no idea such a thing existed.

This was the beginning of tackling my fear of cooking. I was determined to overcome foods and ingredients I knew nothing about, one at a time. The basics of cooking are the ingredients, one ingredient building on another. One ingredient can make a recipe sing.

So, with respect to garlic, you were my first fear. I looked at you in the produce section all tiny in that wrapping paper of Mother Nature. I wasn’t fond of your strong smell in my hands. But combined with olive oil in a sauté pan and heaven!

As you can see below, garlic comes in many forms,already minced in a jar, already peeled in a bag, dried minced and of course garlic powder. With all the focus of cooking magazines, websites, TV shows and features; garlic is available everywhere now.

When I started cooking with garlic I started with garlic powder. Then I moved to the minced garlic in a jar. Both of these versions didn’t require touching it with my hands. I slowly moved to the real thing and it took an awful lot of practice AND TIME to break open those cloves.

the side of a knife to break open the clove covering

look a clove!

Now, I have broke open many a garlic bulb and the cloves are not always that easy to pull apart and break open. But with practice I have gotten better. Now once it is out of the paper you can put it in a garlic press to mince it (still don’t have to touch it!), mince it or chop it with a knife (full hands on at this point), or put it whole in the food processor (and let the blades chop it for you). I have seen several ways to get the smell of garlic off your hands, which include: pouring mouthwash over your hands, rubbing your hands with kosher salt and lemon, and rubbing your hands on a piece of silver.

Garlic is a member of the onion family. China produces the most garlic in the world with the U.S. 6th in production. Throughout history, many cultures believe in the medicinal properties of garlic. Garlic cloves were swallowed whole or strings of garlic bulbs were worn around necks to ward off viruses and even bacteria. It is available in pill or capsule form in the health food supplement aisle for people trying alternative methods of reducing cholesterol levels. This health benefit has helped the popularity of garlic. Knock on wood, I have not been sick this year. In fact, one day when I felt a cold coming on, I roasted some garlic with vegetables and my sniffles dissipated.

One of the best ways I like to use garlic is to get a big piece of aluminum foil and throw 6-8 whole cloves in with fresh beets from the garden, cover it with olive oil and kosher salt. It gets steam-roasted in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. The garlic is so buttery, soft and wonderful that I eat it whole or spread it on a crostini. No offensive garlicky flavor.

The nice thing about all these different forms of garlic is that it makes it easier for us as consumers to use it more readily. There is a garlic chicken recipe that calls for 40 cloves of garlic. I saw Alton Brown make it once on “Good Eats.”. How would you like to unwrap several heads of garlic, smash and peel until you got 40 cloves? That is labor intensive. That bag of already peeled garlic would save me 30 minutes of prep time. I conquered my fear, but I don’t want to spend my whole day in the kitchen. I do have a full time job afterall.

Paper? Plastic? Please don’t BYOB!

Okay I jumped on the bandwagon, I have reusable bags that I to take to the grocery store for my purchases.  These bags are everywhere. Businesses are selling them or giving them away and slapping a brand name logo on the side. Everyone’s doing their part for the environment, right?

My friend Joy, the bargain shopper, brought me a bag from TJ Maxx that was HUGE. I couldn’t believe it. I took that puppy into the grocery store once and it fit all the cereal boxes into it perfectly. I also have some very small bags that are great for items like cosmetics and gum.

But have you ever noticed? All those bags come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. There is no standard size, they are all different.

Here’s another observation. Those bags get really dirty using them over and over again. If you don’t get a plastic bag in the meat department to wrap your meat, it’ll ooze all over your bag. 

And you know what else? The baggers at the grocery store hate my bags. 

I was at the store and a checker looked at my bags and made fun of them. “Wow these bags are really small.”  I didn’t think anything of it letting it slide. But, then I had the same checker again and she made the same comment, again. I couldn’t believe it.

Then I got self-conscious. So I sorted through all my bags and made sure I had all similar sizes that were roomy and square on the bottom so they would sit well when being loaded.  I washed them, folded them neatly and had them sorted when I returned to the store for my shopping. 

Well the checkers liked me and my bags for a while but then another problem came up. The baggers wanted to treat my bags like the plastic bags. You know how it goes, they throw a few items in a bag and then toss it into the cart. Then they would run out of my bags and have to use the plastic bags.

Well, that did it. So now I’m practically bagging the groceries myself. The bagger is really looking at me now.  So I am bringing my bags, sorting the items as they are scanned, and bagging the items according to the size and shape of the bag. 

My family doesn’t understand why I hate shopping at the grocery store now. The fun is gone. All the planning. The grocery list, the coupons, and now the bags. I am exhausted before I pull into the parking lot. One place that is fun to shop is at Costco. The items are so big you barely need a bag or a box to put it in. The checkers just pile it all back in the cart and you wheel it out to your vehicle. If I need a bag for small items, it is already in the car!

BYOB? Bring your own bags? No booze!

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